Zack Zero
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Fifth time lucky

Zack. What a Zero. Having been released on PSN last year, the 2D, side scrolling action platformer from Crocodile Entertainment has finally brought an elemental combat experience to PC, including an in-game world filled with glitches, clunky controls and a poor storyline.

Zack Zero focuses on the idea that your lady, Marlene,  has been abducted by evil aliens, forcing you to travel throughout their world in order to save her from the evil Zulrog, who has a huge grudge against Zack after he and Marlene foiled Zulrog’s plan to conquer Zack’s home world. Now that’s a lot of Z’s. Moreover, Zulrog’s brother died in the initial assault. Not only does he now want revenge, but he’s also determined to obtain precious materials in order to power up a time machine and prevent his brother’s unfortunate death from ever happening.

After an opening cutscene featuring a terrible narration, the action begins, and you land on a mysterious alien planet ready to solve basic puzzles, use your various element-based suit powers, and deal the bad guys some damage. The first level is all about getting to grips with the power of Zack’s suit, making use of fire, ice, and earth forms. Ice allows you to slow time, fire lets you stay mid-air for a bit after a double jump, and rock lets you break certain barriers.

All this is short lived, and after falling into a crevasse, you find that your suit powers were already maxed out, but have now been mostly lost. The rest of the game is pretty much a few hours of traversing different landscapes, collecting gems and exploring different areas in order to level up and gradually gain back these mediocre abilities that aren’t really worth fighting for. It’ll be more of a challenge trying to get used to the heavy controls, which make the whole game feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Aside from the initial elemental abilities, Zack Zero has a familiar Hack’n’Slash feel that many 2D platformers incorporate. This is worth a mention because it seems more fun to play this way than it does to make use of Zack’s suit. Running along and mashing buttons is the more traditional, old fashioned way to play titles like this, and it’s definitely better. It’s also convenient and feels like you’re more involved. Who needs super powers anyway?

The suit abilities actually feel sub-par, and most of the time they seem unnecessary, including both a combat and platforming function that will often go unused, especially as the majority of the levels mostly just make use of Zack’s normal form, as I mentioned above. Furthermore, it’s all a bit frustrating. Prepare to hurl all kinds of verbal abuse at your monitor, as you continuously try (and fail) to retrieve that long row of floating gems hovering above a 50ft drop, uncertain of which element is right for the situation.

In terms of actual level design, Zack Zero managed to impress me. Some stages are packed with obstacles and puzzles, whereas others feature underground caverns with secret rooms, lava filled pits of death and stashes of pickups. There’s an apparent sense of depth, as Zack will automatically switch between the background and foreground when necessary. Add to this the varied backdrops and range of enemies and Zack Zero gains itself a positive attribute.

Speaking of enemies, Combat is a key feature and foes are varied. You’ll fight natives of the Nahirg race, huge worms, Zulrog’s personal army, combat droids, humanoid toads, and many more, including level bosses, each with their own unique fighting style. You’ll often come across rooms that won’t let you leave until you’ve annihilated a selection of these random alien beings. In a situation like this, it’s best to switch to a different elemental form and wipe out everything in your path with a single blast. Given that your suit then needs time to regenerate its powers, you can’t use abilities like this continuously. This may come across as a good point, but it creates a sense of sluggishness, and if I were Zack’s lady Marlene, I wouldn’t be holding out much hope for a successful rescue.

If you play the game long enough to encounter a level boss, then firstly, congratulations! Secondly, prepare once again for frustration. It isn’t the battles themselves that create annoyance, but there are just so many glitches. After defeating the first boss he fell as expected, only to block my path and freeze there, requiring a reload and a rematch. Then, to my disbelief, it happened again. If it wasn’t for the excellent use of level checkpoints I would have been a lot worse off. Third time lucky, all went well, and everything happened as it should, allowing me to finally be on my way.

Graphically, Zack Zero is relatively easy on the eyes, with highly detailed character models, good looking levels and an overall cartoony presentation. There’s good use of lighting and shadow effects, and cutscenes are presented in a comic book, slideshow style. A word of advice though, don’t stare at the backgrounds for too long, they have a blurry distance effect that could probably have some strange impact on your vision. In addition, the sounds effects are crisp, and do a good job of bringing the environments to life. The wind blows, enemies make strange alien type squeaks as you’d expect, and your footsteps squelch on the alien terrain.

In conclusion, Zack Zero is a game rife with frustration and annoyance. It doesn’t really bring anything new to 2D platformers, but it still has a typical Hack’n’Slash feel that many are accustomed to whilst looking good too. The idea of an elemental based super-suit may seem like an intuitive idea, but in reality, the execution is by no means out of this world.

Zack Zero costs £6.99/$7.49 on Steam.

Mr Pathblocker